Catholic Church Birth ControlThe Catholic Church has had a ban on birth control from the earliest days of the Bible. Catholic doctrine is that birth control is absolutely wrong, and a grave sin. Here is the history of why.
History of Birth Control Ban
The Catholic Church has said since its very beginning that using any form of birth control was wrong. Birth control was known at least since the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans. During these days birth control came in the form of animal skin condoms and various poisons to be used as spermicides.
The first mention of the ban on birth control was in Genesis 38:8-10. In this story, Onan is ordered to sleep with his brother's widow. He "pulled out" to not get her pregnant. Poor Onan was slain as a result. Death is a pretty serious penalty, there isn't much more aggressive you could get in the prevention of birth control.
The next mention of birth control being wrong is in Deuteronomy 23:1. It says "He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the Lord." Both crushing testicles and cutting off a male's private parts were effective ways of sterilization. Luckily we don't do things like that any more. Still, the Bible is making it clear that a male who tries to practice birth control can't get into Heaven, period. There's no asking for forgiveness.
This anti birth control message is reiterated many times in subsequent years by Catholic church leaders. Clement of Alexandria (AD195) says, "Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted". This brings to mind the "Every Sperm is Sacred" song from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life" movie. You can find the messages against birth control over and over again through the Catholic Church's history. Believers are told to receive every new life as a gift from God. They should not abstain, they should not withdraw, they should not take other preventative measures. They should actively seek to have as many children as possible.
This of course makes sense from a logical point of view. The more children that Catholic families have, the more Catholics there are to spread that way of life and to pay the church's tithes.
Over the centuries, all groups that broke off of the church agreed with the birth control ban as a normal part of life. It was never even thought of to change this mandate against birth control.
The Industrial Revolution
It was only in 1930 that the Anglicans began to weaken in this steady statement for "have as many children as possible." Remember, until the industrial revolution, children were workers. Children went right to work tending chickens, feeding cows, and seeding crops. Children were built in employees. It was only as we approach modern times that children began to be anything but built in labor. Even as our society approached this incredible change in attitude, churches were very careful to say that birth control could only be used for family planning. That is, perhaps birth control could help you slow down after you had three kids if you were already starving. The idea was introduced that billions of children was not necessarily a good thing.
But with this minor change, the floodgates had been opened. Soon all 'reform' religions said birth control in general was acceptable. Keep in mind that this change in message came very quickly after almost 2,000 years of solid belief.
Pope Pius XI was quite upset by this growing acceptance of birth control. He put out a Casti Connubii on December 31, 1930 that said:
"Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, ... in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, ... proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin."
So Pope Pius XI explicitly said that married people should have sex with the full expectation that children could result each time. A married couple should in no way interrupt God's plan for them to have lots of children. To do anything else is a grave sin.
In 1966 the Catholic Church held a Papal Commission on Birth Control. This Commission voted 30-5 to relax the concerns on birth control. Despite that, in 1968 Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae reiterated the anti-birth-control stance. He said this was necessary for several reasons:
* The commission was not unanimous. It would be wrong on such an important issue to force Catholic church members who were strongly against a drastic change to accept it. Especially when the Catholic church was 100% steady on this issue for almost 2,000 years.
* If the Catholic church said that birth control was a moral thing to do, it could lead to governments forcing sterilization on people. For example, the government could force mentally challenged men to be castrated, and mentally challenged women to have their tubes tied. Governments could force sterilizations on "undesireable races" to prevent them from having children. This was not an unfounded worry. It wasn't that long ago that Sweden force-sterilized 21,000 people.
* If sex was not about creating children in a loving family, then sex would solely be about pleasure with no responsibility. Men who used women for sex as a pleasure object would lose respect for them. Once men treat women as an object, it leads to emotional abuse, physical abuse, and rape.
* God created sex to create children. That was his specific desire and mandate. Man should not second-guess God and interfere with His system.
Let me make clear that I do personally believe in birth control. I disagree with what Pope Paul VI mandated. Even so, I suggest that it is worth it to consider the issues he mentions here. Pope Paul VI was not simply quoting ancient Bible verses to make his point. He brings up legitimate concerns. So we DO need to address these issues. I think we can do that AND have access to birth control.
The birth control ban includes all impediments with the sexual act - including sterilization, withdrawl, the pill, and condoms.
The Rhythm Method deserves a special mention here. The rhythm method is what they call not having sex on certain days in a woman's ovulation cycle. A woman isn't fertile every day of the month. She is only fertile on maybe 3 to 4 of the days, based on her ovulation cycle. If a man simply does not have sex with her on those specific days, a baby should not result. The Rhythm Method once was banned, but is now considered by most to be a valid option. The church called this "Natural Family Planning". However it is important to note that there are many priests who still argue that the rhythm method is a grave sin. The whole point of the rhythm method is that it has sex for fun and specifically tries to avoid the "proper result" of children. Aiming for sex without any chance of children is against God's laws to many Catholics. Every sexual act should be done with the expectation that a child could result.
What if you simply stop having sex altogether? Even abstinence in a marriage is apparently wrong, according to many. Married people should follow God's will to try to have children. It is part of the mandate of marriage.
When Pope Paul VI died in 1978, Pope John Paul I was elected. He said he was going to allow birth control and do a sweeping reform of the Vatican. He only lasted 33 days before dying in mysterious conditions.
The next pope was Pope John Paul II, from Poland. He was born in 1920, and was extremely powerful during his years of being Pope from 1978 to 2005. In 1995 he published the Evangelium Vitae. In this he spoke against abortion and contraception as both being evil slayers of potential children God intended to create. He even says that developed nations who try to bring contraceptives to third world nations are doing it out of "selfishness" - that they want there to be fewer third worlders around so there is "more" for the wealthy people. He says children are the "supreme gift of marriage" that any couple should be waiting for gladly. He was very fond of the Virgin Mary and felt that all women should have children as often as God sends them.
John Paul II made sure he brought in believers to surround him who held these same beliefs. When his successor was chosen in 2005, and Benedict XVI took power, there was little hope that anything John Paul II had set into motion would change at all. In fact, in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI came out railing against the Italian people who he feels are having too few children and therefore causing the downfall of the Catholic religion (i.e. fewer kids = fewer paying Catholics growing up). He said this was "dangerous individualism" causing women to choose to do things other than kick out a new baby every year. Those women should dutifully be producing millions of new Catholics for the Pope.
Other Large Faiths
The Jewish faith believes fully in the ban on contraception. Genesis said "be fruitful and multiply" - to try to stop children from forming would be to try to stop God's will. There is an exception in the Talmud for women who would be medically harmed by pregnancy. There are some reform groups who are gentling the statement.
Islam allows birth control but only when used to "pace out" pregnancies - i.e. to delay pregnancy until you are settled in an appropriate place to raise the children, or to space out children so you can properly care for each one. Islam explicitly speaks out against not having any children at all, especially if your claim is "we don't have enough money". One relevant quote is: "Don’t kill your children for fear of poverty; it is We who provide sustenance for them and you; verily killing them is a most heinous crime!" (Al-Isra’: 31). While this quote talks about killing children, Islamic scholars feel it speaks directly to parents proving their faith in Allah by having children and then accepting that Allah will provide for their care.
The LDS church used to be very against contraception but said in 1998 "The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter. Married couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife." So the LDS church now feels that sex without the intention of having children is acceptable.
Hindus have a community view towards birth control. That is, if the children will help the community, that is fine, but if the area is overpopulated, it is more proper to restrict the number of new children. Especially with so many Hindus living in India, they tend to be acutely aware of issues of overpopulation.
Reason Behind the Ban
Religions who ban birth control generally feel that sex should be primarily about a committed, married couple having children. The pleasure is a "nice side benefit" to encourage people to have kids. The religions feel if people start having sex for the pleasure, they will treat each other as "pleasure objects" and not as "potential parent to my child". This can lead to a lack of respect and abuse.
Also, religions worry that people who have sex not to have kids might therefore have sex out of wedlock before a marriage, or have affairs once they are wed. To the church, these results cause a breakdown of the entire moral fabric of society. Children - the weakest, most helpless members of society - are potentially ending up in chaotic situations where they are not wanted.
The Catholic church has publicly claimed that condoms are full of tiny invisible holes that let the HIV virus through and therefore should not be used. You can find repeated, documented instances of these statements being made by the Catholic church in a variety of locations in the world. On August 14, 1994, a Cardinal spoke to a million people in the Phillippines and told them "the tiny AIDS virus ... can pass right through the pores of the condom." The church propagates this informtion to help "prove" that only married, loyal couples should have sex - that any other sexual activity is risky even with condoms. Note that the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Health have repeatedly documented and proven that condoms do block the AIDS virus.
Are Catholics Obeying the Ban?
In the US, according to a 2002 study by the CDC, a whopping 89.7% of women aged 15-44 had used a condom to prevent conception. 82.3% had been on the pill. Even though the Catholic ban still stands, studies show that up to 96% of all sexually active Catholic women have used some form of birth control other than the rhythm method at some point in their life. One poll shows that 88% of Catholics (male & female) feel the official doctrine should allow use of pill and condom. Another poll had a result of 90%. A third poll showed 82% of Catholics felt that even in the current state of affairs, you could use birth control and still be a "Good Catholic". This even though the Catholic Church has repeatedly stated in no uncertain terms that the use of contraceptions is a grave sin.
A survey at an abortion clinic found that 40% of women getting an abortion were Catholic, 40% were from other religions and 20% were non-religious. This is even though only about 24% of US people are Catholics. According to the BBC, "Catholic women in the United States are as likely as women in the general population to have an abortion, and 29% more likely than Protestant women." They are quoting research from the Alan Guttmacher Institute. It seems to indicate that because Catholics are pressured not to use birth control they have to resort to an abortion if they accidentially get pregnant at higher rates than other groups are. If you take an overall view of this situation, I would feel that getting an abortion would seem to be a worse option than using birth control. Fairly obviously, telling Catholics "abortion is not an option" is not working.
Because this particular issue tends to bring a lot of commentary, I have created a full page researching the issue:
Abortion Rates Higher for Religious Women
Birth Control and US Politics
Because birth control is being seen by many doctors as a natural part of adult health planning, access to birth control is becoming a normal part of many health plans. That then means companies who provide insurance for their workers might through that plan be subsidizing birth control. This leads to challenging situations. For example, in March 2004 a Catholic Church organization in California was ordered to offer birth control coverage to its employees as part of its normal health plan, since it employed workers of all faiths.
In 2012 President Obama ran into serious objections about his nationwide health care plan because many religious organizations felt it would mandate them paying for birth control. They felt they should not have to pay for something they felt was morally wrong. Compromises had to be fought out, which allowed the religious organization of, say, a hospital, not to have to pay for the contraception, but the insurance company would. Undoubtedly the insurance company would then jack up other prices to cover their bills, so the company would pay for it in the end. But the "moral issue" was that the religious group felt it could not hand over money earmarked for allowing a woman to take contraceptives. And again what's ironic about all of this is that Catholics are in a minority, and most of them ARE taking contraceptives, and yet their stance against them are affecting national politics.
As just one example of how this issue affects patients, I was switching doctors recently. I found a doctor literally right down the street who I liked the sound of. When I called to talk with her, she said I could use her for check-ups, but I'd have to go elsewhere when I needed to get my pill prescription. She would not give anyone - not even a married woman with children - access to the pill. I was jaw-droppingly shocked that this could be stated by a young female doctor in our modern society. The debates in 2012 over birth control demonstrate just how pervasive this influence is. It is a challenging world we live in if a young female doctor choosing which hospital to work at has to consider which one will include birth control coverage in their plan. Jobs shouldn't pick-and-choose which parts of a woman they will take care of.
What Can Be Done
I understand that this next section may agitate some people, so I will try to state it gently. But I do feel it is logical and needs to be considered.
As shown by the above research, the overwhelming majority of Catholics unrealistically maintain a differentiation between "being Catholic" and "doing what the Pope says to do". They do this while donating millions of dollars to fund the Pope's agenda. This agenda - again, an agenda even most Catholics do not agree with - ends up influencing world-wide politics. Only 17.3% of the world is Catholic, but the Catholic doctrines on issues such as birth control and abortion end up affecting every single woman. This is true because of anti-choice laws passed in developing countries, demonstrations at local family clinics who may just mention abortion as an option, and doctors refusing to prescribe birth control pills.
There have been countless studies that tie birth control rights to better living conditions (and survival rates!) for females and for entire families. That is, proper family planning ensures that the family has good living conditions - while having too many kids can cause death for the mother and squalor for the remaining family members. Just one example - according to the UN, one in 39 women in Kenya die in childbirth. In the US, having a child might be a question of how it affects one's life path. In many countries, birthing a child is a serious risk to the mother's health.
Here is the sensitive part. I believe it's logical that the full responsibility of this situation lies with Catholic Church members. Non-Catholics cannot force the Catholic church to change. The Catholic church would hardly care what non-Catholics felt about this issue. Only Catholics can choose the policy and direction of their own church. So we have 96% of Catholic women who have used birth control - yet they give money and support to an institution which is the loudest voice against birth control. It is those women's responsibility to force the Catholic church to change - or to withhold that income so that the church does not have the power to mandate policy for others. Otherwise those women are directly responsible for the casualties caused across the entire world directly caused by their "well paid representatives" in the clergy. Who else could be responsible? Who else could make things right? Nobody else can possibly cause that change to occur. Only those women can. They are the ones supplying the money. They are the ones supplying the support. It would be like me willingly paying the rent at a crack house and then claiming I had no responsibility for the injuries and deaths within. If I was against crack, I should stop paying the rent at the very least, and create a drive to clean up the neighborhood if I truly believed in my cause.
Again, nobody else can effect this change. Only the Catholic Church members can. They need to start taking that responsibility seriously, for the sake of all who die and suffer as a result of the policy.
Note for Researchers
Every week I receive requests from students in high school and college wanting to quote my research. I am very glad you find my years of research helpful to your efforts. Keep in mind that I do not "speak for the Church" so quoting me personally will not be very meaningful in a paper. What you want to do is quote the actual material I am reviewing here. Quote the Bible - I already give you the exact spots to look for. Quote the Casti Connubi. Most of what I provide here are simple, verifiable facts and your paper will have far more weight to it if you quote the original sources I provide, rather than quoting me as a second-hand source. That all being said, researchers have permission to quote and reference this material as long as it is for school submission only. For plagiarism and other reasons, this material cannot be shown anywhere else on the internet.
Source links for more information:
Abortion Rates Higher for Religious Women - my summary
Bible Gateway - a complete online Bible
Casti Connubbi on Wikipedia
Evangelium Vitae on Wikipedia
Pope John Paul II on Wikipedia
Forced Sterilization on Wikipedia
Pope Benedict / Dangerous Individualism Speech at CBS report
BYU Article on LDS Church Proclamation
Jewish Views on Contraception on Wikipedia
Catholic Church says Condoms have Tiny Holes at a UN Webpage
CDC Report on Birth Control Usage
BBC Statement on Catholics and Abortion
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